Republican News · Thursday 15 June 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Special needs children neglected

Despite the economic boom, there is a high level of educational disadvantage in Ireland today. Worst hit are children with special needs. An Opposition motion in the Dáil last week targeted this issue and called for government action to help children and adults with literacy and numeracy problems.

Speaking in support of the motion, Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said children with special needs were being neglected in the education system. He said in the Dáil on 8 June:

``One of the most damning statistics published about Ireland in recent years was that nearly a quarter of Irish adults have problems with even the simplest literacy task. The figure was met with disbelief by many but it came as no surprise to teachers and to the numerous parents who have children with learning difficulties.

``This country shares with Britain and the United States the shameful distinction of having rates of illiteracy totally out of tune with their supposed developed societies and advanced economies. Contrast this with Sweden, where the comparable rate of illiteracy is just 6%. Of course the root of the problem is that here, in Britain and in the US one of the chief indicators of the gross social and economic inequality which we suffer is educational disadvantage among large sections of the population. Like long-term unemployment and bad housing conditions, educational disadvantage crosses the generations.

``That this situation pertains in the supposedly affluent society of Ireland in the year 2000, this millennium year, is a disgrace. It is an indictment of the stewardship of education by successive Governments, and none more so than the present Administration. Thousands of Irish children are leaving primary school without literacy and numeracy skills. These children have been robbed of the most vital learning years. They are being left behind because of the failure of government to provide the necessary infrastructure to ensure that all our children are given an equal opportunity in education.

``I would like to refer in particular to children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - ADHD. For these children, the earliest intervention possible is absolutely essential. At present, there is a total lack of proper diagnosis and assessment and parents have told me of waiting lists of up to two years for assessment. I urge the minister and the government to seriously address this real and pressing need.''

One the main problem for children with ADHD as cited by the Sinn Féin TD, and with other learning difficulties, is the lack of access to clinical psychologists for proper assessment. Children are either falling through the net completely or else receiving help when it is too late. Parents feel that the child is like a ``bouncing ball'' between schools and health boards. The result of failure to intervene at the earliest stage is that there is a very high incidence of children with ADHD involved in anti-social behaviour - drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and imprisonment. The refusal of the government to accept last week's Dáil motion shows that much campaigning remains to be done to vindicate the rights of the educationally disadvantaged.

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